If you have not seen Cabin in the Woods, stop reading this, do not read anything about the movie and go see it. Hopefully I found you in time and you haven’t already read too much. Don’t worry, this will still be here when you get back. In all seriousness, this is one of those movies where the less you know about it, the better. After you see it, you are going to want to sit back down and watch it again. That is how I felt immediately upon leaving the theater and each of the times I have watched it on disc. It doesn’t get old and never fails to entertain.
This is one of those rare movies that takes genre conventions and boundaries and proceeds to smash them to bits. Cabin in the Woods takes your expectations and turns them completely around, then when you think you have a handle on things, it twists them away again. It is a shot in the arm of a genre stuck in a rut filled with sequels, sub par remakes, and PG-13 ghost stories.
This is genre filmmaking at its finest, it pays homage to where we were and forges ahead in new directions to show the possibilities. It is made by people with a love for the genre and a desire to bring everything they like under one roof. Now, as much as i love this movie, I am not so blind to think everyone will agree with me. This is a weird movie that plays mix and match with genres and covers a lot of ground. It is a horror/science fiction hybrid with healthy doses of comedy, gore, and jump scares. It helps to be into that sort of thing, and I am.
The movie starts with a couple of guys in lab coats (Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford) discussing their current project. They are joined by a woman in a lab coat (Amy Acker) and engage in some comedic ribbing about the success of the respective departments in achieving their goals. It is an odd conversation with no context, don’t worry, this is the right movie. The talk is cut short by a smash cut to the title card.
The scene shifts to a college campus where a group of friends are getting together for a little getaway to the woods. You know, the typical sort of early scene for a movie of this type. The group is comprised of the usual collection of stereotypes, the jock, the hot chick, the brain, the goof, and the nice girl. Together they head off into the wilderness with the promise of no cell phone signal.
Along the way they stop at a rundown gas station and meet a grizzled old man who tries to warn them off from going where they are going. Of course our collection of horror stereotypes ignore his craziness and head along their merry way. Eventually they find themselves at a rundown old cabin with nothing else around. This is where the fun begins.
It is fascinating to watch this story play out. We watch the friends acting goofy, we see the guys in the scientific facility going about their work, all providing hints of a bigger picture. Cabin in the Woods works as a horror, but also as a clever deconstruction of the genre. It takes the formula that we are all familiar with, breaks it down to its basics, and then creates a new definition. It gives the formula a reason to be. I cannot say much more, just watch as the familiar gets redefined within the intent of the film as well as a more broadly as a call to arms. This movie can be viewed as a rallying cry for creativity, a challenge to genre filmmakers to bring something new to the table.
In addition to the wonderful way the story plays out, the film is executed well in many other fashions. For one, the ensemble cast play quite well together, they have good chemistry and I believed them as friends and coworkers. The believability factor cannot be praised enough. How often do you watch a horror movie and not for ome second believe the protagonists would ever actually be friends? Both groups, the college kids and the white coats, are perfectly believable as friends and this helps sell the reality of the insanity.
He look of the movie is also really good. The sets a very nicely designed, from the grungy browns of the old cabin to the antiseptic halls of the underground facility. Add to that the use of practical and CG effects and you have a movie that feels modern, yet also reminds one of the old days of all practical effects.
The movie was crafted by director/co-writer Drew Goddard, making his directorial debut (he also wrote Cloverfield), and writer Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, The Avengers). Together, they have crafted a fascinating film with a lot to offer, not to mention just being flat out fun.
Audio/Video. The movie is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.4:1 and looks quite good in this high definition transfer. It should be noted that what may be seen as murkiness, where details drift into black is not a problem, it is just how I remember it from the theater. I suspect it is a stylistic choice to add to the dread as details will materialize put of the brown/lack murk and seem more menacing for it. There is still a lot of fine detail in faces and other aspects of the film, not to mention the nice clean lines of the lab in the third act. There is also a node level of film grain to add to the experience. It looks quite good and represents the movie well.
Audio is presented with a nice and lively DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track. It maintains clarity of dialogue throughout and there is nice use of the surrounds. Listen as monster sounds creep into the rear channels as our heroes race through the woods, or the immediate jump as a door gets smashed on one side and screams come from the other. Also, don’t forget when things go crazy as all hell deals loose late in the movie. Very involving track.
- Commentary. The track features the creative team of Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon. It is. Fun track that covers a lot of ground, it may seem a bit self congratulatory at times, but I think they are just really happy with how thins turned out. They love this stuff and it shows in the track.
- It’s No What You Think: The Cabin in the Woods Bonus View Mode. This feature provides some picture-in-picture behind the scenes clips and interviews about the movie.
- We Are Not Who We Are: Making Cabin in the Woods. This is a nice making of piece worth interviews with cast and crew and a look at the fun on the set.
- The Secret Secret Stash. This is a pair of featurettes that looks some of the props and production design.
- An Army of Nightmares: Makeup and Animatronic Effects. A nice featurette on the effects used throughout. I love practical effects.
- Primal Terror: Visual Effects. This looks at some green screen, CG, and pre-viz elements.
- Wonder-Con Q&A. A fun session with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard.
- Theatrical Trailer.
Bottomline. This is simply a great movie and it is a shame that it took so many years for it to reach an audience. It is a movie crafted by those who clearly love the genre. The end result is something genuinely unique and original. This movie has laughs, scares, thrills, intelligence, and is perfectly suited to watch over and over.